The tough get going
March 11, 2009
RAF MILDENHALL - Senior Airman Sheraz Cedeno was leaving, and his buddies in the 100th Civil Engineering Squadron wanted to send him off properly.
So they traveled to western England, to the Tough Guy competition, where, along with thousands of other people, they gritted through a miles-long endurance and obstacle course that’s not for the faint of heart.
The event coordinator, a shadowy man known only as "Mr. Mouse," held the event on "Jan. 32nd."
"They refuse to call it ‘February 1st,’" said Senior Airman David Norris, one of the participants.
The Tough Guy course is no walk in the British park. After running for miles, contestants endure a brutal obstacle course that includes climbing up and down various structures, ducking through water-logged tunnels and running through a section of electrified wires.
"Tough Guy will always be a physically challenging, mentally demanding, fear inducing, visual spectacular," its Web site reads. "The event is uniquely fear ridden and you need to be fit in both body and spirit to survive the ordeal. You will not be alone, thousands will be by your side. There you will find the true spirit of Tough Guy."
So when Cedeno wanted to do something crazy before he left, Norris, Staff Sgts. Nick Malard and Ryan Martinek and Senior Airman Michael McFadden signed on. McFadden had just returned from deployment two weeks before.
Martinek said that members of the security forces challenged them, "but they never showed up."
Before the competition, the team did some research and started training about a month out, mainly running, low-crawling through mud and taking icy showers to prepare them for that Jan. 32nd cold.
"I wouldn’t recommend the cold shower," Norris said. "It made me not want to do it."
Their research had also prepared them for the cast of characters who show up for the twice-yearly event, which, in the past, has included participants dressed as Batman and someone hauling a blow-up doll on his back.
"The first thing we saw was a big, ripped dude painting himself pink," McFadden said.
Throughout the obstacle course, held on a day when the temperature sat at 18 degrees Fahrenheit, the team alternated between bouts of being cold and being not-as-cold.
"It was the coldest it had been in 13 years," Martinek said. "Very demoralizing."
As the contest neared its end, the 5-foot, 4-inch Martinek succumbed to hypothermia.
"I just went into hypothermic shock," she said. "Some medical guy pulled me off the course."
Martinek said she doesn’t recall much after the shock set in amid freezing, chest-deep water, but she remembers how the staff took care of her. And an old man gave her a cup of hot squash.
"He was so sweet," she said. "Then he asked if some guy my age was my dad. That made me happy."
The airmen plan to do the next competition in July and recommend doing a lot of lower-body strengthening to prepare.
With the rest of the team already having finished the course, Martinek said she can’t wait to complete it herself later this year.
"I was three obstacles from finishing," she said. "I have something to prove now."